The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, March 16, 2016 11:54 am

Brian Kelly: Need basketball team's unselfishness

Chris Goff | The Journal Gazette

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has been watching the school's basketball team lately.

As the Irish begin spring practice tomorrow, Kelly wants to mimic what he sees as their best attribute.

"You look at our men's basketball team and how they played selflessly, it's really part of their DNA: sharing the basketball, playing great basketball where nobody cares who gets the credit," Kelly said.

"I know that's easy to say when you're winning, but that's what we've got to get to with our football team. We can do that over the next seven weeks."

In speaking with media today, Kelly made a few revelations. Linebacker Ben Councell, who rarely saw the field last year, has decided to stop playing football and focus on getting his degree. Nick Martin, who ended last season at left guard, will move back to his former center position, where he will be atop the depth chart. And star receiver Will Fuller has a minor hand injury that will not keep him out of spring drills.

Otherwise, Kelly used the opportunity to elaborate on some key issues entering spring practice. Let's take a look at some of his thoughts.

With the quarterback battle, Kelly isn't sure when or how that will be decided.

"I really don't know," he said. "I really don't know. I think it's going to take us some time to get a feel for how this competition is going to go. Once we see how they're going to compete, I think we'll have a better understanding of answering that question."

He also indicated Everett Golson and Malik Zaire could share snaps, as they did in the Music City Bowl.

"I think they're both very much going to be part of our success in 2015," Kelly said.

Meanwhile, Carroll graduate Drue Tranquill continues to make swift progress in his recovery from an ACL tear, so swift, in fact, that Kelly has been taken aback. Tranquill may be a limited participant in spring drills.

"He's a nut," Kelly said. "He could play. That's the kind of physical ability that he had and the way he's rehabbed and trained. He could be cleared to play. That's just unheard of. We're not going to do that. We don't have to win a football game in the spring. We're starting to move him side to side. He's just been incredible."

Bishop Luers graduate Jaylon Smith and James Onwualu still are outside linebackers, while the return of Jarrett Grace from injury makes for a crowd in the middle with Joe Schmidt and Nyles Morgan.

"I think we offer more opportunities and a lot more flexibility," Kelly said. "One of them is not going off the field, and that is Jaylon Smith. That's a certainty. The rest of the guys are competing, and I think it's a pretty good situation."

It sounds as though Kelly was caught off guard by offensive lineman Matt Hegarty's offseason decision to transfer.

"We're in a situation certainly where we had a spot for him on our roster," Kelly said. "We thought he would be competing for a starting position. He chose to take another option that is available to him because he's going to graduate." 

Kelly praised the play of safety Max Redfield in looking back at the team's win in the Music City Bowl.

"It all came together for him in that game where we saw the realization of athletic ability with football knowledge," Kelly said. "There was a bit of a disconnect there. There was this real athletic ability but not getting that football piece put together. We really saw that with the physicality. So we would be disappointed, and I know he would be disappointed, if we didn't see that. The spring is to build on the kind of success he had against LSU."

Of the two players who were suspended all of last season for academic reasons but have a chance to come back, corner KeiVarae Russell still sounds more likely. Kelly said defensive end Ishaq Williams is not guaranteed a spot.

"Right now he's got to get re-enrolled into school," Kelly said. "He's got to reapply, go through that process. There are uncertainties there. He's trying to do the things necessary to have a Plan B if he needs one. He's trying to make some money."

And, finally, in the big picture, Kelly struck a tone of optimism, as every coach will do this time of year.

"Our staff has been hard at work," he said. "We've got our group together. It's been pretty exciting around here in terms of everybody now is prepared and ready to go out and teach and coach."

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